Atlantic City, New Jersey. If you want to really establish yourself as a bona fide pro in the world of poker, you have to survive swimming with sharks in Atlantic City. Sure, New Jersey has been the butt of jokes forever it seems. Eric Afriat considers himself a non-professional. His day job is real estate in Montreal, Canada. But after a couple of wins on the WPT since 2014, Afriat has held his own against seasoned pros up and down the East Coast. He binked a WPT SHR couple of years ago and proved his win was no fluke with a victory at the 2018 WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open. Afriat now has over $2.5M in career earnings.
This year's marquee main event championship at the annual Winter Poker Open at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City attracted 1,244 players. The $3,500 buy-in championship was also a stop on the World Poker Tour. The WPT is now in its 16th season and the Borgata has been a stop on the tour since the second season. This year's WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open attracted a prize pool that fell short of $4 million. The event had a $3M guarantee, but it wasn't even close to being in jeopardy. First place would win almost $652K, plus a free seat into the season-ending Tournament of Champions (TOC), hosted at the Aria Casino in Las Vegas.
The Borgata WPO final table began with Zach Gruneberg sitting on healthy lead. The others filling out the final table included WSOP Main Event champ Joe McKeehen, Michael Marder, Stephen Song, Justin Zaki, and Eric Afriat. Out of the final six, Afriat was the only member of the Champions Club as a former WPT winner. The real estate guy from Montreal would need a little help if he wanted to win another title. Afrait was the short stack going into the final table with approximately 2.3M, whereas Gruneberg's mountain was in excess of 17.5M.
Afriat went to work early on when the two shortest stacks rumbled. Stephen Song busted in sixth place when his Ace-rag lost to Afriat's pocket treys. Afriat flopped a full house and won the pot. That appeared to be a good open for Afriat, who essentially doubled up and moved up a pay jump. They played five-handed for a while before Mike Marder hit the road in fifth place on Hand #56. Marder had a King-high flush but lost to Zach Grunberg's straight flush. Joe McKeehen was dunzo 13 hands later when Gruneberg's Big Slick took down McKeehen's Ace-Jack.
Gruneberg held more than 50% of the chips in play when it got three-handed. The final three battled for 30+ hands before Gruneberg got picked off. Zaki seized the lead and then knocked out Gruneberg on hand #125. Gruneberg's Ace-nine lost to pocket tens after Gruneberg whiffed on a gutshot draw. Gruneberg banked $321K for third place.
When heads-up commenced, Afriat trailed nearly 2-1 in chips against Justin Zaki. The two would play 100 hands of heads-up before Afriat pulled off the remarkable comeback... from worst to first at the final table. Zaki earned a little more than $434K for a runner-up score. Afriat took down nearly $652K for first place. Plus, Afriat got a $15,000 seat into the end of the season's Tournament of Champions at the Aria in May.
Only the top 157 places got paid out in the WPO Main Event. among those cashing were... Jon Little, Amnon Filippi, Kevin Saul, David Paredes, James Calderaro, Mike Linster, Jack Duong, Tyler Patterson, Ryan D'Aneglo, Chris Leong, Esther Taylor, Ness Reilly, Shaun Deeb, Olivier Busquet, and former NFL player Richard Seymour.